How to Help Your Baby Self-Soothe

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on April 15, 2023
4 min read

Babies from birth to 12 months typically wake up between one and three times per night. Some babies are very good at soothing themselves back to sleep, while other babies need more help. During the first 3 months of a baby’s life their sleep rhythms are still maturing and it’s completely normal for them to cry out during the night. 

You can use soothing skills like gently cradling, wrapping, rocking, or rhythmic patting to get your baby back to sleep. However, as your baby gets older, they will develop more independent abilities and a greater capacity to self-soothe.

As a caregiver, there are a few things you can do to help your baby self-soothe and sleep through the night.

Have Your Baby Sleep In Your Room. You can place your baby in a crib or bassinet in your bedroom near your bed. Doctors recommend that you don’t sleep with your baby in the bed because the baby can accidentally suffocate in the space between the headboard and mattress or between the headboard and wall. If you accidentally roll over on your baby, they may be trapped or unable to breathe. 

Follow A Consistent Routine. Bathing, cuddling, singing, playing quiet music can help establish a peaceful atmosphere that cues to your baby that bedtime is here. Some babies have a hard time falling asleep when they’re overly stimulated. By doing these activities each night, you can establish a good bedtime routine. 

Put Your Baby To Bed Drowsy, But Awake. Place your baby in their crib or bassinet when they are tired and drowsy, but not completely asleep. This helps them get used to the feeling of falling asleep on their own. Make sure to always place babies on their back. 

Give Them Time to Settle Down. It’s perfectly normal for your baby to cry or fuss when you first put them down to go to sleep as they move around and try to get comfortable. If the crying doesn’t stop, check on them, offer them comfort, and leave the room. 

Consider a pacifier. A pacifier might help your baby sleep through the night and could also help prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Learn Your Baby’s Sleep Pattern. Just like adults, babies have different sleep preferences. Some are night owls while others are early morning risers. Pay attention to your baby’s preferences and be open to adjusting routines. 

The most common reason a baby struggles to self-soothe and fall asleep on their own is because their caregiver continues to resettle the baby instead of letting the baby do it itself. This causes the baby to start to associate you with falling asleep and rely on you to get back to sleep.

This pattern can begin for a number of reasons, but it usually stems from something like:

  • Worry that your baby is lonely or frightened 
  • Anxiety about your baby 
  • Worry about being separated from your baby
  • A dislike of hearing your baby cry, so you try to stop it before it happens 
  • Guilt for not helping your baby 
  • The way you soothe them being too stimulating
  • The baby being hungry and going to sleep while being fed 

These are all common things that loving parents do to help their baby. While this is okay, there are some things you can do to help your baby self-soothe so you both get a better night sleep:

  • Try to understand why you’re involved in helping your baby get back to sleep so often. Knowing why can provide you some relief and will give you a good idea of how to start to problem solve. 
  • If you’re experiencing anxiety, talk to someone about it who can help. Your health care provider may be able to help you manage your anxiety and provide advice. 
  • When your baby is young they will need regular night time feedings, but as they get older the feedings will be spaced farther apart and will be less frequent. Gradually and lovingly start to stop feeding your baby at night. This may take time for them to get used to, but it will be worth it in the long run. 
  • Try a different technique. It’s easy to use an overstimulating settling technique with your baby, especially in the middle of the night when you’re exhausted and anxious for your baby to go back to bed. Using the right technique can make all the difference. 

Overstimulating technique: 

  • Picking your baby up as soon as they wake up
  • Vigorous arm rocking
  • Bouncing
  • Too much handling or talking
  • Overexposure to blue light

Soothing technique: 

  • Waiting before you pick up your baby 
  • Slow, gentle rocking
  • Rhythmic motion
  • Calm quiet 
  • Gentle handling 

Using a soothing technique can encourage your baby to self-sooth and help establish a healthy sleep pattern for the future. If you’re experiencing difficulty getting your baby to self-soothe, remember that change takes time. They love you and want to be around you. Learning to be on their own is something new. Try to stick with it. 

Babies who continue to struggle to self-soothe or are extremely fussy or impossible to console may have a medical issue. Contact your doctor if you suspect something is wrong with your baby. They can offer support and guidance.